Monthly Archives: March 2019

Day One Hundred and Twenty Seven: Here Comes Christmas! Part One- November 30th-December 14th, 2018

I do not know how Christmas creeps up every year. It starts when Forth of July weekend ends and then we blink our eyes and there is Christmas. The years just keep getting faster and faster. Even though the holiday season snuck up on me the month of December was full of interesting events.

I had to put my walk around Manhattan on hold for most of the holiday season. Between classes, work, the Fire Department and selling Christmas trees (as you have seen in other blogs), the month of December was a busy one. There were different events to attend, activities to participate in and places to visit.

Christmas to me is not just the holiday itself but the time of the year to give back and help raise money for those in need. I really believe in giving back to the community during the holidays so there was a whole series of fundraisers that I attended. As my friends always say of me, you never sit still for one minute.

The holiday season started right after returning from seeing Lillian out in Kings Park, NY. We had such a nice time together having dinner with the other families and enjoying the entertainment that I promised her that I would see her in two weeks for the family Christmas dinner at her facility.

The next day, I got up early to the firehouse to help wash the truck as the Hasbrouck Heights Fire Department was participating in the Annual Holiday Parade in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. Our Chamber of Commerce sponsors the parade and Christmas tree lighting every year on Thanksgiving weekend.

The Holiday Parade in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ is always a lot of fun. It gives all of us a chance to give back to the community as the procession of floats, decorated cars and organizations participate in the parade ending at the circle near the edge of town for the tree lighting ceremony.

Christmas Parade in HH

Engine One in the Hasbrouck Heights Holiday Parade

Before the parade, all of us met up at the firehouse to wash and decorate the trucks and then stage by the Boulevard before the parade. I always enjoy watching the little kids in awe when the trucks pass by. It was cold the night of the parade so the crowds were thinner than previous years but still people looked like they were having a nice time. After the parade was over, everyone met at the circle for the tree lighting ceremony which got the usual ohhs and ahhs.

I had to be up early the next day as we had to unload 340 Christmas trees from the truck for the Annual Christmas tree sales for the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association. This is our organization’s largest fundraiser and it is our job to sell all those trees for our scholarship program. We must have set a new record for emptying the truck and by the end of the season for selling them (See Day One Hundred & Twenty Six).

It is something for me as next year I will be going on my twentieth year on the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association.  I have seen the growth of the organization and the all the high school seniors that we have given a head start with our scholarship program.  I can’t believe I have served on the Executive Board for four years now as Director (Sargent of Arms). It has been quite the journey.

HHMA Christmas Tree Set Up 2017

The members of the Hasbrouck Heights Men’s Association setting up the trees.

This starts the holiday season in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ with the Boulevard decorated for the holidays, fantastic window displays by our town merchants and everyone excited that Santa was coming.  The holiday season means holiday parties, tours of decorated mansions, hand writing Christmas cards and keeping everything in check. I went to a record thirteen Christmas parties and get togethers this year. I am the member so many organizations and with four jobs everyone wants to get together. I was a busy person this year.

Right after Thanksgiving Weekend with the endless activity and getting to work selling those trees, I had to go back to work and put my schedule together for the month of December.

My first weekend of December was busy with back to back activities with Sinterklaas Weekend ahead of me and the day after the Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association Christmas Party. This is always a busy weekend so I spend my weekend up in Rhinebeck at the Quality Inn (See review on TripAdvisor) while I run from one place to another. This was on top of the fact that my class would be presenting their final project for my Communications class the Monday I got back to work.

This was my sixth year participating in the parade. Rhinebeck, New York is a magical place at the holidays. The store windows are beautifully decorated with all sorts of merchandise that showcase the stores and the trees that line the downtown are layered with white lights that illuminate the downtown. Little wooden paintings line all the trees in the downtown area and garland accents a lot of buildings. It looks like a quaint little Christmas town straight out of a Currier & Ives print.

Rhinebeck at Christmas.jpg

Downtown Rhinebeck, NY at Christmas

I help with the set up at 10:00am at the Starr Library every year. This year the theme was the Butterfly. (At the cocktail party fundraiser before Thanksgiving, the Sinterklaas community was introduced to the Butterfly King & Queen and were given the traditional blessing before the start of the Sinterklaas season.) The committee created Butterfly puppets for the parade that we put together that morning. As I unpacked the truck with the other volunteers, I could not believe how fast the year went. I kept asking myself how did this go so fast.

The same group of volunteers I have worked with for four years and we all worked in tandem with each other, emptying out the truck, unloading all the puppets and then putting them all together and stacking them against the library for the night of the parade. I have done this for so many years, I know how to put most of them together in my sleep. We were done in about two hours and then I was able to enjoy the rest of the days activities.

I have been volunteering in the parade now since 2010 and I can definitely tell you that the number of people has tripled over the past four years alone. After the Opening Ceremony at the Beekman Arms Hotel (I get a kick out of Mother Holly’s ‘feeling Jolly’ speech every year), I got a copy of the day’s activities and then snuck up to Red Hook, NY right up Route 9 to visit a few stores and restaurants on my bucket list for my blogs (you will find Little Pickles Children’s Store on ‘LittleShoponMainStreet’ and Village Pizza II on ‘DiningonaShoeStringinNYC’ on my WordPress.com blog sites). Red Hook’s downtown was decorated for their Christmas event the next weekend. As one gallery owner explained “everyone is in Rhinebeck for Sinterklaas, so the town is quiet”.

I was able to visit businesses for my blogs that had not been open the weekend I visited President Van Buren’s home in Kinderhook, NY (see the Van Buren Homestead on my VisitingaMuseum.com site) and revisit old ones. I wanted to get a better feel for their downtown. (Please don’t miss the pizza at Village Pizza III at 7514 North Broadway. Their slices are excellent).

By the time I got back to Rhinebeck at about 1:30pm, I could not find a parking spot. The town was mobbed with people and almost every block around the downtown was lined with cars. I had to park almost five blocks away.

The rest of the afternoon was full of concerts, performances by the dancing polar bear and the grumpuses and lively singing at the churches. All four churches in town had either singing groups or bands. Lining the Main Street of Rhinebeck were all sorts of local charities selling Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, hot dogs and other snacks. Most were almost empty when I got back as people were snacking as they walked the streets to get from one activity to another.

Sinterklaas Parade III.jpg

The Grumpus singing and dancing in Downtown Rhinebeck, NY

I decided to relax and not run around for the afternoon as I have seen most of the shows and acts that were on the roster and pinpointed how I wanted to spend the rest of the afternoon.

I first visited the Butterfly nest that was located in the courtyard. The artists are very creative on the Sinterklaas staff. They built entire Butterfly cocoon that you could walk through. There was music going on in and around the cocoon and when I exited, the grumpuses were starting to do one of their dances in the courtyard. They had the whole crowd laughing and clapping along.

My stop on the event was the ‘Into the Light’ show at the Church of the Messiah. I have seen this show over the years of coming to Sinterklaas and I swear, the girl who plays the main character has not changed in the last five years. She is just getting older.

Sinterklaas Parade 2018 II.jpg

‘Into the Light’ Show

I spent the rest of the afternoon at the United Methodist Church listening to the Brass bands. I got to hear the Funkrust Brass Band and The Second Line Brass Band. It was nice to just sit back and relax and listen to the music. I had been running around the town the who afternoon.

After the bands, it was time to get ready for the parade. So back up to the Starr Library and my position in the parade as part of the “Star Forest” of puppets. We lucked out again that night as the weather was mild and it was in the high 40′ that night.

As the excitement of the parade started and we made our way down the hill, I noticed immediately that the crowds had really grown this year. They were five deep at the parade route on both sides and everyone had their cellphones out to record the parade. With all the white lights on the trees, all the decorated windows in full light and all the Sinterklaas stars that lined the route, it was a beautiful and festive night when coming into town.

Sinterklaas Parade 2018 III

Me in the Parade in the ‘Star Forrest; by the Mother Earth Float

People got so excited to see “Sinterklaas” (the Dutch word for ‘Santa Claus’) and the various characters in the parade as ‘Mother Holly’, ‘The Pocket Lady’, ‘The Dancing Polar Bear and his trainer”, ‘The Butterfly King and Queen’,  ‘The Grumpuses’ and ‘The Wild Women of Rhinebeck’ joined the brass bands, floats, puppets and singers, dancers, performers and animals who make the parade what is every year. It really is exciting to be part of this parade.

At the end of the parade route, we pass the stage with all the members of the Sinterklaas family to make our final goodbyes until next year and drop off the puppets. It was funny that the whole time I was walking in the parade I kept telling myself how fast the year had gone and I could not believe I was here again.

Watch me in the Sinterklaas Parade in the ‘Star Forrest’ on the right

I dropped off my puppet and went to watch the last of the parade before leaving for dinner. It was fun to watch the fire throwers perform at the end of the parade. It was a nice way to end the evening and after the performance was over, the crowds dispersed to go to dinner. Every restaurant in town was mobbed all evening.

I went to a barbecue restaurant that I had wanted to try for years, (See review on TripAdvisor). I had the buffet dinner ($20.00) that they had set up for the day and just ate. I had to admit as much as l liked the food, the waiter annoyed me when he charged me for the refills on the drinks (Noted in the review and in his tip).

As I walked back to my car, it started to mist and rain lightly. I did not realize how far I had packed away from town. I was four blocks away near the Duchess County Fairgrounds. That is how busy the town was that day. I just went back to the hotel and relaxed. I had an early trip the next morning.

The next morning after a big breakfast, it was off to the Boonton Firemen’s Home for the Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association Christmas Party for the residents that we throw every year. The facility was nicely decorated and we had some crowd that afternoon with all the residents present and their family members as well.

The band was a lot to be desired as they were off key most of the time and the lead singer could not sing a note. The place was really in the holiday spirit when member, Jerry Naylis and his family, who sing in their church choir and whose daughter in law sing opera, entertained the crowd. It really livened up the room and put us all in the holiday spirit. His little granddaughter stole the show when she sang ‘Jingle Bells’.

BCFHA XMAS 2018 III

The Naylis Family entertaining the residents at the Firemen’s Home in Boonton, NJ

During the intermission we gave the residents their Christmas presents, monogrammed sweatshirts with their names on them, as a gift which I still see them wearing everytime we come to the home for events (See blog, BCFHA@Wordpress.com-Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association below).

https://wordpress.com/post/tbcfha.wordpress.com/156

The residents look forward to this party every year and were very touched by the gifts and the holiday thoughts. It was a fun time for all.

BCFHA XMAS 2018 II

The members of the Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association with the residents in December 2018

After the party was over, the members of the Bergen County Firemen’s Home Association went to dinner at the Columbia Inn for our annual get together. We had a great time just catching up with one another and having a few laughs. The restaurants pizza is terrific too (See review on TripAdvisor).

With the weekend closing, it was back to work for me and another week of a round of holiday parties. First though, my students presented their project, “Bergecco-Park Consulting Inc. presents “Welcome Week 2019-Follow the Yellow Brick Road back to Bergen Community College”, their final exam project (See Day One Hundred & in ‘MywalkinManhattan.com’). The students gave a very professional presentation to a crowd of professors and administrators and members of the Athletic, Theater, Art, College Foundation, Alumni Association and Department of Special Services were on hand to view the presentation. It was well received by everyone and I could not have been prouder as a professor (please view that blog for the full project presentation).

bergecco logo yellow brick road final draft

Our logo for “Welcome Week 2019-Follow the Yellow Brick Road back to Bergen Community College”.

See the whole project presentation on my site, “MywalkinManhattan.com”

https://wordpress.com/post/mywalkinmanhattan.com/8022

After I finally had the presentation behind me, it was a series of holiday parties one after another between the school, the fire department and various organizations that I am involved in (and that number is high). I joined the faculty at the college for our annual holiday get together, which was really nice. They had a full Thanksgiving dinner for us and a lot of holiday cheer. The Administration got up and wished us all a happy holiday season and good luck with the remainder of classes. It was nice to talk to the other professors who had come to the presentation. They gave me nice feedback at the party.

The next night it was off to the Engine One Christmas Party at Segovia’s in Moonachie. It was a nice evening with the guys, toasting the year and the successes that we had as a company (See The Brothers of Engine One HHFD-Blog on WordPress.com). It had been a busy year for us activity and project wise accomplishing both getting the bell fixed and chromed and getting the tee-shirts finally ordered and out to everyone. It was nice to catch up with everyone in a relaxed environment.

On Friday night was the annual Friends of Mills Mansion Holiday Cocktail party and fundraiser. Normally this is the night before Sinterklaas but it seemed that no one was in the holiday spirit on November 30th so they held it the week after.

Mills Mansion Holiday Party

Me at the Mills Mansion Holiday Party with members of the Friends Executive Board and dancers from the Isabel Duncan Dance company.

We had a really nice time. The event for the first time was sold out and the mansion was packed with well dressed people. The food was excellent and the servers did a nice job passing appetizers to all the guests. One of the local wineries was sampling one of their new sweet ice wines as well as a Chenin Blanc. It was a perfect dessert wine for the holidays.

The rooms were fully decorated for a Victorian Christmas and the Jazz band they had performing were excellent. They were engaging and people cleared the floor for impromptu dancing. It was nice to see people get up and dance again. It was nice to just sit back and catch up with other members I had met over the years and listen to the music. After that I took a quick tour of the rooms before heading back to the main room to hear the holiday greetings from the Executive Board.

Mills Mansion Dining Room

The formal dining room at the Mills Mansion for Christmas

It was important that they sold out the event because the money will go to renovating both ceiling in the dining room and redoing the curtains that line the dining room windows. The mansion is slowly returning to its past glory and these events make this possible. The only problem was I was really tired after the event and it was a long ride home.

The weekend was coming up and there were two big events planned and I wanted to get enough rest to enjoy them. The first was on Saturday afternoon where I joined the Cornell Club as we we took a tour of the Ladies Shopping Mile and Gramercy Park with an event, the “Victorian Tour: Origin of Christmas Traditions” (See Day One Hundred & Twenty Eight). We literally walked this entire section of the City around Union and Gramercy Parks and walked up lower Sixth Avenue to visit the old department store buildings to know their history as part of the shopping area after the Civil War.

Ladies Shopping Mile

Ladies Shopping Mile on lower 6th Avenue

On Sunday was the dress rehearsal for the “Washington Crossing Reenactment” at Washington Crossing Historic Park. The event takes place every Christmas morning to remember when General Washington crossed the Delaware River and surprised the British. It was an interesting event that everyone should see once in life. It is very important to know how he crossed the river, in what type of boat and the conditions they were under that morning during a snow storm.

Washington Crossing Reenactment II.jpg

The Military Parade by the Delaware River

We started the morning with a Artillery Demonstration and then this lead to a Fife and Drum Parade in the historic village on the Pennsylvania side of the park. Then the troops had a Musket Firing Demo & Soldier’s Drill by the Delaware River. At noontime, the troops had their formation and the Reading of the Order of Battle.

See the parade of soldier’s before the Crossing December 2018

By 12:45pm when the troops made their trip, the event was narrated by Major General Walter Lord, U.S. Army (Retired). The troops had their parade movement and then they loaded the Durham boats, which were rebuilt for the event from the original designs that General Washington and the troops actually used.

Washington Crossing Reenactment.jpg

The Washington Crossing Reenactment 2018

What I found interesting about the event was that they used the same boats as General Washington used and even in normal conditions, it was hard to maneuver these boats in the river. One of the boats even had problems had with the crossing and it took them extra time to cross and they had rescue boats off to the side in case the boats lost control, Imagine doing this during an ice storm riding in boats with chunks of ice coming at you in the water. What these men did to save our freedom is commendable.

The reenactments have been going on at this site since 1838 where it was discussed the importance of this historic event. The first attempt at a proper crossing was done in 1844 but the crowd was so rowdy and drunk that it marred the event. When they tried the event again in 1876, it was so cold and the exposure to the weather and too much alcohol consumption by the crowd marred the event again and it was noted not to attempt is again for another hundred years (History of Washington Crossing-Park).

As part of a pledge project in 1947, a group of Rider College students attempted the crossing again and it received national attention. In 1953, a half-scale Durham boat was built and a proper ‘authentic’ using the same boats as used that day of the crossing and it was successful. Over 700 people came to the event and since then it has become an annual tradition (Washington Crossing Park History).

It was a busy first half of the holiday season and just kept getting busier as the holiday got closer. Between work and outside activities, I just kept running.

Please read about the Victorian Walking Tour on Day One Hundred & Twenty Eight.

 

Places to stay:

Quality Inn Rhinebeck

4142 Albany Post Road

Hyde Park, NY  12538

(845) 229-0088

https://www.googleadservices.com/pagead/aclk?sa=L&ai=DChcSEwjjlt6N7OvgAhWGhLMKHbcJBsgYABAAGgJxbg&ohost=www.google.com&cid=CAASE-RooTIxmc5SMBldM5FH_lmQddE&sig=AOD64_2mmL-hiEz3ZSdcMhSE1Dot8L-jQw&q=&ved=2ahUKEwiQnteN7OvgAhWkct8KHa-EB7wQ0Qx6BAgNEAE&adurl=

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g60801-d590312-Reviews-Quality_Inn_Hyde_Park-Hyde_Park_New_York.html?m=19905

 

Places to Eat:

Columbia Inn

29 Main Road

Montville, NJ 07045

(973) 263-1300

https://www.thecolumbiainn.com/

Hours: Sunday 1:00pm-9:30pm/Monday Closed/Tuesday-Thursday 11:30am-10:00pm/Saturday 2:30pm-11:00pm

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g46639-d639843-Reviews-Columbia_Inn_Restaurant-Montville_Morris_County_New_Jersey.html?m=19905

Smokey Rock BBQ

6367 Mill Street

Rhinebeck, NY  12572

(845) 876-5232

Hours: Sunday 12:00pm-10:00pm/Monday-Saturday 11:00am-10:00pm

https://www.smokyrockbbq.com/

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g48486-d6684399-Reviews-Smoky_Rock_BBQ-Rhinebeck_New_York.html?m=19905

Places to Visit:

Downtown Rhinebeck, NY

http://www.rhinebeckchamber.com/

 

Washington Crossing Historical Park

Washington Crossing PE Road

Titusville, NJ  08560

(609) 737-0623

https://www.state.nj.us/dep/parksandforests/parks/washcros.html

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g46869-d3440313-Reviews-Washington_Crossing_State_Historic_Park-Titusville_New_Jersey.html?m=19905

Washington Crossing Historical Park

1112 River Road

Washington Crossing, PA  18977

(215) 493-4076

https://www.washingtoncrossingpark.org/

My review on TripAdvisor:

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g53924-d2522457-Reviews-Washington_Crossing_Historic_Park-Washington_Crossing_Pennsylvania.html?m=19905

Have a great holiday season!!

Here’s the whole reenactment event on YouTube of the Washington Crossing Event 2018

 

 

Advertisements

Day One Hundred and Thirty: I dedicate this to my friends, Lillian Heckler and Helen Chao. I will miss you both!

It is never easy saying Goodbye to a close friend especially ones that you have known for thirty years. I know that the holidays are never easy but when you had to attend as many wakes, Memorial services and funerals as I did this year, it puts the holiday season into perspective.

The toughest is when you lose a friend who has seen you from everything from the beginnings of your career, to the loss of a family member and all your successes and failures in life and at the same time never judges you for it but still offers sound advice. That is what a real friend does.

I just lost two friends I have long mentioned in my blogs, Helen Chao and Lillian Heckler, who have know for thirty and twenty-five years respectively.

Helen I had met on my second day of work at R. H. Macy when our Executive Training Program class took our tour of the Herald Square store. We started at the bottom the store and worked our way up the eight floors of selling space. One of the stops was in the Visitors Center on the Mezzanine of the store. We were introduced to the people who worked there and took some time to look around.

One of my best friends was living in Singapore at the time and I wanted to get him a store directory in Chinese as a gift to show him where I was working. So on lunch hour I doubled back to the Visitors Center to find one. This is how I met Helen. I asked her where I could find one and at the time there was none in Chinese only Japanese. Since he spoke both French and English on top of Chinese, I got him the directories in English, French and Japanese as a gift.

We just got to talking and we ended up talking the whole lunch hour. Later on that week I stopped by again to say hello and that started the friendship between myself, Helen and another woman, Linda, who also worked in the Department. We just got along so well that I would stop by every once in while when I was in Training Squad classes.

That blossomed into a long friendship between the three of us that lasted until Linda left the company three years later. When I returned from a two year job experience in our New Haven store (now closed) as a manager and then was promoted back to the Herald Square store as an Assistant Buyer, Helen and I resumed our friendship. We would go out to lunch when the two of us had time and would visit the store for the Flower Show and for Christmas when we were both off from work.

Over the years, we exchanged laughs and lots of stories. Helen told me how her family had come to America after the Cultural Revolution and her father had been an educator and had to leave the county. Her mother was Japanese and I am sure that did not make it easier for the two of them in those difficult times. I always found the stories about her life fascinating. She would also give me the latest stories of her children and grandchildren and their doings.

After her retirement from Macy’s and her family’s move from Valley Stream, NY to Flushing, NY admittingly like a lot of friends the connection that bound us, Macy’s, was gone and she was not in the City as much. Still over the years we kept in touch and would meet to see the Macy’s Flower Show in the Spring and in Chinatown for Dim Sum when she was at a doctor’s appointment. As time went on though, these became less and less as work  and commitments took away our free time.

In the later years, we saw one another at least once a year and I always called her on her birthday (we were ten days apart), Chinese New Year and Christmas and I always sent cards out to her. I had seen her for the last time in 2015 when I read about a Dim Sum Palace in Flushing that was noted as the best in the City and we decided to meet there. It was nice to see her again but even I had to admit things had changed. We ended up talking about the past and she wasn’t as chatty as she used to be. We had a nice time but it did not seem the same. The sad part was one month after our lunch, Helen suffered a stroke. I found that out about four months later when I was finally able to reach her husband.

Having taken care of my own father after his stroke and being the primary caregiver (Visit my blog, ‘BergenCountyCaregiver.com’ on WordPress.com), I was Helen’s biggest cheerleader. I would call at the holidays and her birthday to encourage her, send her cards to cheer her up and just be a friend. I always got the impression she did not want me to visit her so I respected that.

The last time I talked to her was on her birthday on October 1st, 2018 and we had a nice conversation. I could tell she was tired but she was happy I called and told me she had gotten my birthday card. She thanked me for always remembering after all these years. I did not realize that she had turned 90.

My last phone to Helen was on December 22, 2018 right before Christmas. I would be visiting my mother and our family at the holidays and would not have time to make my traditional phone calls Christmas morning as I had done the previous four years. This is when her husband had told me that she had passed away the night before. We had a very heartfelt conversation that lasted almost an hour and I gave him my condolences. He said that she always appreciated all those years of phone calls and cards and how much it meant that I never forgot her at the holidays and her birthday.

As we said our goodbyes and I wished him and his family a happy holiday season in these difficult times, it was surreal to know that I would not be talking to her again after thirty years of friendship. The one impression I got was that in some small way I was cheering her up and encouraging her all those years and maybe that made a small difference in her life that a friend did not forget her. I was glad she was part of the my life.

My friendship with Lillian happened many years later when I was an Manager at FAO Schwarz Fifth Avenue, the upscale toy store on Fifth Avenue. I had worked at the store as a manager from July of 1995 to February of 1996 right before I left to attend the Culinary Institute of America. I had casually met her and talked to her when I ran the Boy’s Action Department which was right next to the Pre-School Department where she worked.

How I got to know Lillian better is when I had to leave school in 1997 to earn money for my last semester and went back to FAO for seven months to work the holiday season as a full time manager. Management placed me in the Pre-School Department as a Manager as some of the other managers in the store said it was ‘difficult to work there’ because of all the long service employees that dominated the department. I ended up blossoming in the department and it was one of the best managerial experiences I had had in years.

Lillian greeted me in the Pre-School Department with “Hi Justin, I’m Lillian but you can just call me ‘Grandma’ if you like.” I told her I preferred to keep it professional and I would just call her ‘Lillian’. I loved her energy and the fact that she was 77 at the time and she could ring circles around most of the staff in the store. She and the other long service employees in the department Barbara, Clover and Shirley I found to be a real asset to the department in that they never called in sick, knew their merchandise, knew how to merchandise and could sell up a storm. We did a lot of laughing as well.

After I finished my holiday stint at FAO, I continued to stop in the store on my weekends home when I was in the City and would visit the ladies. We would still continue our conversations and I would regale my stores of what was happening in cooking school. Later on after graduation, I would work in the store again for another four months for the holiday season and would cover the department again. It was nice to work with that staff for the holidays.

After that, I moved on to Hawaii and California after graduation but I still kept in touch with Lillian and Barbara until they both retired from the company and eventually FAO would close the Fifth Avenue store after bankruptcy. Lillian, Barbara and I would continue to meet up in the City about four times a year for lunch and dinner and I would visit Lillian in Astoria, Queens when she got into her late 80’s and early 90’s. She lived by herself until she was 95.

A broken hip that year and some time in rehab led Lillian to an assisted living facility out in North Shore of Long Island near the fork of the North and South Shore of the Hamptons. I started to visit her again to catch up with her. After my own father passed (who this blog is dedicated to), I started to visit her more often especially close to her birthday and the holidays.

The last two years I had spent Easter, her birthday in June, Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas events and at least one day during the summer to visit her. I always brought out lunch for us (she liked to have Italian and Chinese because the facility did not serve the types she liked) and baked goods from the local bakery. In the warmer months, I would take her to the courtyard or patio and we would talk and converse with other caregivers and their families. We continued to have our long talks, our heart to hearts and laugh at old stories.

People at the facility that she was living at I could sometimes see could not understand why we were friends. This was considering the fact that I had known the woman for twenty four years and we had seen each other through the ups and downs of life. I never saw Lillian as being her age, I just saw her as being Lillian. I spent her 100th birthday with her on June 6th, 2018 (See Day One Hundred and Fourteen of “MywalkinManhattan.com”)and she had just as much pep that day as she always did. I drove her around the facility with balloons on her wheelchair and the staff and residents alike wish her a Happy Birthday. I could see the lives she touched there as well.

The last time I saw her was in December for the “Family Dinner” we had on her floor at the facility. I gave Lillian a choice when I came out to visit for Christmas, I could come to the dinner or to the concert the next week. It would be hard to do both with my work schedule and we chose the dinner. We had such a nice time (See Day One Hundred & Twenty Four of “MywalkinManhattan.com”) and did a lot of laughing and talking. My visits always cheered her up.

Something struck me though on my way to the facility. As I got closer and pulled off the highway, I had the sinking feeling that this was going to be the last time I would be visiting. It had really struck me hard.

I shook it off and decided to just have a good time. After the dinner was over, I headed home because I had to work the next day. Before I left, I talked with Lillian’s roommate’s daughters who joined us for dinner and gave them my number and my email address and asked them to contact me if anything were to happen to Lillian. It was them who told me that Lillian had passed.

I went to Northport for the wake and funeral and met Lillian’s grandchild and great grandchildren. We spent the night of the wake just sitting around talking. There were no other visitors besides myself and her family. We told our ‘Lillian’ stories. After the wake and her family left, I took a ride around Northport, NY and did not realize that such a pretty shore town existed.

Since Lillian had passed during the Epiphany, the town’s Christmas tree was still up at the harbor and I could not believe how beautiful and picturesque it was that night. I though “Lillian would have loved this”. I think that was the last gift she gave to me. They had a beautiful service for her and I said my goodbyes.

It was a tough time before and after Christmas but I am the one who was blessed with two wonderful friends who saw me through the beginnings of my career, my years in school and develop into the person I am now and was glad went through all the steps along the way.

So with much love, I dedicate this blog, One Hundred and Thirty and my midpoint of the island of Manhattan of my walk at 59th Street, to two very special “Ladies” in my life, Mrs. Helen Chao and Mrs. Lillian Heckler. Ladies, thank you for your love and friendship both for over twenty-five years. You are the best and I will not forget you!

With all my love, your friend, Justin!